The State of Israel (Hebrew: Medīnat Yisrā’el, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל; Arabic: Dawlat Isrāʼīl, دولة إِسرائيل) is located in Western Asia, with the Palestinian territories comprising the West Bank and Gaza Strip (see Palestine). The majority population of Israel is Jewish (2014: 75%), while 21% are Israeli Arabs, the majority Muslims, the rest Christians and Druze.
A new nation of immigrants without experience of local traditions of puppetry, Israel was influenced by the Eastern and Central European avant-garde of the 1930s and 1940s. Among early puppeteers were Paul Loewy (1891-1970) and David Ben Shalom, called “Honzo” (1912-1990), who continued the Czech and German tradition of carved wooden string puppetry.
Paul Loewy immigrated to Israel in 1939 from Bohemia with his marionette theatre and played to audiences of adults and children in towns and kibbutzim. David Ben Shalom (a Czech, born as Jan Baeck), who had immigrated to Palestine in 1934, settled in Kibbutz Givat Chaim (Haim), where in 1936, he founded his travelling puppet theatre, the Bubatron (Doll’s Theatre), in which the children themselves were transformed into puppeteers. For fifty years he devoted himself to the development of complex technical and creative performances strongly influenced by Eastern European traditions, folk tales and life of the kibbutz forming the basis of his plays. In 1977-1979, Ben Shalom taught puppetry in the theatre department at Tel Aviv University.
During the 1950s, other personalities were involved in the development of the Israeli scene: the Polish born puppeteers Dina Dziatelowski (b.1901), who emigrated to Israel in 1957, played a pioneering role in puppetry in education, writing her own pieces and creating glove puppets especially for children. She was awarded the Ben Zvi children’s literature prize in 1994. Her books were illustrated with photos of her shows. Arriving in Israel in 1955, British born Dennis Silk (1928-1998) was well known from the mid 1970s for his plays for puppets and objects, as well as for his writings on puppetry. Also noteworthy is Eric Smith, originally from South Africa, who began in Pretoria with Lyndie Parker and John Wright, and who founded, in 1972, Eric’s Puppet Company in Tel Aviv. Smith produced many shows for children adapted from stories including: Master Peter’s Puppet Show by Manuel de Falla, The Dragon by Yevgeny Schwartz, The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen, and L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) by Rossini, among others. Eric Smith’s string puppets are now part of the varied mixture of Israeli culture, and were shown in Great Britain, Germany and the United States.
Developments of the 1980s and 1990s
A turning point came in Jerusalem in the 1970s by a group of artists, a number of whom were born in Israel, and there were more efforts around the end of that decade in Tel Aviv. The artists did interdisciplinary research in performance art, dance, and visual theatre. The result was the creation in 1981 of The Train Theater (Teatron Ha Karon), which was a co-operative of artists such as Alina Ashbel, American-born Michael Schuster (who introduced Javanese wayang kulit and Indian kathputli, Argentine-born Mario Kotliar (1949-1998), Hadas Ophrat. The group was later joined by Marit Ben Israel and Roni Nelken-Mosenson (who in the 1980s developed a Karagöz show based on the puppet collection at the Islamic Museum). Train Theater created work for both children and adults. A small and intimate group, Train Theater’s repertoire later became aimed primarily at children. As it developed, Train created around itself many organizations and significant performers on the Israeli scene, which it produces and markets, though shows are created by the individual artists or small groups. The current director is Dalia Maayan. Offshoots include the International Festival of Puppet Theatre of Jerusalem, which was founded in 1982 and mixes puppetry, visual and object theatre aimed at all audiences; the School of Visual Theatre established in 1986 (by Hadas Ophrat); and the Habamah Theatre founded in 1988 and renamed Hazira Performance Art after 2000 and which supports experimental work and performance for adult audiences.
The School of Visual Theatre has an ambitious multidisciplinary four-year programme of study offering a diploma recognized by the Ministry of Education and Culture. It provides training for professionals in all disciplines of visual arts. The pedagogy is based on interdisciplinarity, pluralism, and openness to all the arts of performance (directing and scenography for actors’ theatre, the art of puppetry, object theatre, dance, video and digital work, performance, etc.), and its artists participate in many festivals such as the International Festival of Puppet Theatre of Jerusalem and the Acco (Acre) Festival of Alternative Theatre. Among the school’s graduates, are Patricia O’Donovan (Nekudat Or Touch of Light, also Louis l’enfant de la nuit), Erica Sapir, Yael Inbar, Revital Arieli, Galia Levy-Grad (Cube Circus), and Elit Veber, all who had attained by the early 21st century international reputations. Some of these artists have also contributed to the increasing amount of puppet performance using non-Ashkenaz and European materials and exploring Mizrahi and Sephardi culture. Beginning in about 2010, Pandora, a project by graduates of the School of Visual Culture, has contributed important performance work in puppet festivals and other venues with experimental and cabaret performances. Other Train artists include Shahar Marom, Jonathan Ben Chaim, Miriam Salzberg and Amit Drori.
Moreover, Meitav is an organization dedicated to puppetry and education, and operated from 1982 to 1995 in Jaffa. In 1986, Naomi Yoeli, with the support of the municipality of Tel Aviv, founded the puppet theatre in Hayarkon Park, which was very popular until its closure in 2003. In addition to Naomi Yoeli, practising puppeteers were Miri Peeri, Micky Mevorach, Iki Gilad, Dina Dekel, Ilan Savir, Sharona Shapira, Ilia and Raya Brendman, and Bela Shkatov. Miri Peeri is the founder of another major creative centre in the Israeli scene: the Israel Puppet Centre of Holon (near Tel Aviv) which includes a School of Puppet Art (1989) and since 1995 the International Puppet Theatre and Film Festival – another important artistic event in Israel – as well as the Museum of the Art of Puppetry, founded in 1999. Both the centre and the festival have created a hub of activity near Tel Aviv and, in 2006, the Israel Puppet Centre, moved to its own independent venue, which constitutes a home for artists, educators and practitioners in the sphere of puppetry.
Other institutions include Beit 9 (House of 9) and Galilee Multicultural Theatre (founded by Pablo Ariel who emigrated from Argentina in 1972 and leads this company of Jews and Arabs using minimal language to draw diverse groups together). Rochi (Rachel Beckman), with Erica Sapir who lives in France, and Dina Kaplan of the United States are the founders of Puppeteers without Borders, an international organization that promotes growth, change, and conflict resolution through puppetry and does workshops on health, human rights and therapeutic uses of puppetry in developing countries around the world.
By the 1990s, many puppeteers leaving the former Soviet Union had immigrated to Israel, including Itschak and Esther Pecker who emigrated in 1979, Ilia Ilov, the Petroushka Troupe, and many others. Dvora Zafrir directs the School of Puppetry and Drama (1990), which is part of Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv and focuses primarily on the relationship between puppets and education but promotes puppetry as a whole. The main subjects taught are the adaptation of literary texts, different genres of puppetry, designing and creating of puppets, the use of materials, theatrical puppetry and production. The art of puppetry is also taught in private institutions and in various departments (“Puppets and Education” by Farryl Hadari at Tel Aviv University). Patricia O’Donovan teaches at Daniel Yellin School of Education, and others teach at other institutions.
The Israeli chapter of UNIMA (with 100 members by 2009) was established in 1984. Its presidents include Ophrat Hadas (1984, 1986-1991), Michael Schuster (l985), Alina Ashbel (1991-1999), Ilan Savir (1999-2003), Miri Peeri (2003). More recent presidents have been Tami Sharf, Devora Zafrir and Patricia O’Donovan (2007-2009).
- Amitai, Dan. Habubatron. Tel Aviv: Yavne Publishing, 1980.
- Ben Shalom, David. Manuel de marionnette [Puppetry Manual]. Tel Aviv: Sifriat Hapoalim (distrib.), 1986.
- Dziatelowski, Dina. Le Théâtre de marionnettes à la maternelle [Puppet Theatre in the Kindergarten]. Tel Aviv: Otzar Hamore Publ., 1970.
- Ebert, Fa Chu. Eric Bass, Innovative Puppeteer. Jerusalem: Bama 104, 1986.
- Ebert, Fa Chu. Jerusalem’s Visual Theatre. Tel Aviv: Assaf 6, 1990.
- Ebert, Fa Chu. The Train Theatre. Jerusalem: Bama 101-102, 1985.
- Ophrat, Hadas. “Acteur et marionnette – Énigme du manifeste” [on Edward Gordon Craig]. Bamah Drama Quarterly. No. 133, Jerusalem, 1993.
- Ophrat, Hadas. “La Marionnette et le génie d’une nation” [on Bunraku]. Masa Acher. No. 32, Tel Aviv, 1993.
- Ophrat, Hadas. “Théâtre de marionnettes: médium et message”. Ariel. No. 69, Jerusalem, 1994.
- Silk, Dennis. “The Marionette Theatre”. Bamah Drama Quarterly. Jerusalem, 1994.
- Silk, Dennis. “Trick Puppets”. Painting and Sculpture Quarterly. No. 4. Tel Aviv, 1973.
- Silk, Dennis. William the Wonder Kid, Plays, Puppet Plays and Other Theatre Writings. Riverdale on Hudson (NY): Sheep Meadow Press, 1996.
- Yehezkely, Yehoudith. Le Théâtre de marionnettes. Tel Aviv: Reshafim Publishers, 1988.